Once upon a time, in an America of a not too distant past, there was an interesting dynamic of who had access to necessities. In a country where we believe the myth of hard work and perseverance gets us far and wide, systematically bigotry kept and still keeps a number of people behind invisible yet visible lines of life.
Most would de-mark that to Redlining policies when it comes to the essential of housing, but how did it look, to be a person of color in pursuit of motor vehicles, past and present?
It’s hard not to see those connections between who had limited access to housing, when transportation interests and policies often dictated land usage in the twentieth century. White flight, technically, wouldn’t have been so easily implemented from America’s urban cores had it not been for access to new shiny automobiles, lessened credit restrictions, and robust production.
The same discriminatory policies that faced African Americans, Asian American and Hispanic-Latino populations regarding where they got to live and how they financed their existences often carried over to America’s showrooms of vehicular dreams as well.
It is known historical policy that premium brands of automobiles thrived on exclusivity. In fact, Cadillac officially didn’t sell to African American customers up to the Great Depression. When the brand finally sold to African American Customers, it was to facilitate additional sales during the economic turmoil of the era by any means necessary. It wasn’t based in altruism, just cold hard economics.
In cold hard capitalism never really benefitting civil rights, the fears around driving too premium a car while Black (or Mexican, or Chinese) long has been a fear of minority consumers. Even when corporations sold to minority customers, racial prejudice and state sanctioned violence still made the freedom of four wheels somewhat of a heavy burden had you the income to save for a new Oldsmobile, Chrysler or Mercury over a more common Ford. In reality, a Lincoln could get you lynched, a Rocket 88 could get you raped…
…the question today, as we’ve been on wheels as a nation for over a century, whether those prejudices still stand in the way of the full promise of freedom that the Automobile might offer. I’ve noted, in some (if not all) of the online automotive forums that I’ve participated in during the last decade often can descend into very toxic stereotypes about minority car enthusiasts and their cultural choices about how they enjoy their motor vehicles.
Criticisms of Donks, Lowriders, and Scrapers that deviate from the purity of the original design of automobiles comes off as downright puritanical in the desire to preserve a place and time that was rather repressive for a number of individuals.
If there was a modicum of examination, maybe there would be some examination around how much coded race language, alongside classist assumptions, come ingrained with those assertions.
Despite the horrors of the past, many people still hold dear the art of our collective memory, and this includes Automobiles. Attempting to sanction it to preserving the false rose colored imagery is a fallow cause that ignores plenty of blood, sweat (often at lower wages than someone white) and tears of anguish might inform a Person of Color, or Queer Identified, car enthusiasts love for the two tons of fun they might throw further into the air as a statue on 22 inch rims. As enthusiasts, as humans, we can strive to do far better.
3 thoughts on “Dynamic Divergence: Driving While Black, Part 2 – Redlining On The Road”
Hi, I really enjoyed your article, and learned a lot. I grew up in Portland, Ore. on a main street, The horse races were to our north about 2 miles, and the black community was a mile south of us. My father was racist and would make terrible comments about the beautiful 1950’s cars that were two and three toned that passed by our house. He assumed they were all owned by black people. What a childhood to grow out of!
Hi Laurence, been reading your stuff over the years at other sites and really love that you are putting this into a cultural context. It underlines the uneasiness I feel about the current fashion for MCM design- is it an appreciation of good products, or a wilful turning away from the nastiness of the past?
I do believe it can be both/and. One of the reasons I decided to just host my own writing elsewhere is that I didn’t think it was possible to write/discuss such topics somewhere like Curbside Classic, where any hint of that turns into a Hornet’s nest of wanting to forget the context (or those that don’t even recognize other contexts of that era that don’t compute with theirs).
Of course a lot of beautiful things came out of that era, in the way that 2-3 design generations later we look back to it for some semblance of purity. But looking at who and what was exploited to create that admirable environment is key to not repeating the same mistakes.